Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Dependent State

On the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, local relief agencies in north Texas are complaining that aid for victims of the storm has "slowed to a trickle."

Two years is a long time. I don't think that any reasonable person would oppose short term assistance to the victims of the hurricane from both public and private sources; however, this would seem to be an instance where the availability of aid may actually prevent people from taking the steps needed to move on with their lives.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Passing on American Values

Michael Barone has some interesting statistics regarding the number of Hispanics in the United States by generation. While 14% of the general population is Hispanic, 19% of those under age 18 would be categorized as such.

Some people, one supposes, are concerned that nearly 1 in 5 minors in the United States has such a different cultural background, but there really should be no fear. By age 18, many of these kids will graduate from high school and be sufficiently Americanized that they, too, will not be able to read or write English -- just like their peers.

Rumors Greatly Exaggerated?

Mark Cuban declares the internet to be "dead and boring," writing, "When everyone is looking for gold in the same river, the best opportunities are somewhere else."

Read the rest here and here.

Monday, August 27, 2007

When Looking for Love

Ilya Somin has an interesting discussion of the question of whether it is "wrong" to date across ideological lines. My own opinions more or less cohere with the viewpoints expressed in that post.

Of course, with regard to my dating, some unkind person could suggest that beggars must not be choosers, so such litmus tests should be avoided if at all possible. Seriously, though, both with regard to platonic friendships and romantic ones, I enjoy the company of people who are able to discuss and debate both passionately and amicably with other of varying viewpoints. I guess I value intelligence and open mindedness more than a particular set of viewpoints. One's intelligence need not even include political interests as long as there is something in common to discuss.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Countering the Culture

Rod Dreher discusses the decision making process that ultimately led him and his wife to enroll their son in Providence Christian School, an institution that "teaches a classical curriculum in a strongly Christian atmosphere." In the course of the discussion, Mr. Dreher makes this provocative -- and correct -- statement:

Social conservatives have placed far too much hope (and too many financial resources) in politics as an agent of cultural renewal, and far too little in the slow, steady work of building up institutions like Providence.

Drugs Destroying Lives

The Tennessean has an editorial and a series of guest pieces on one of the most serious social and health care problems in the United States today: abuse of prescription drugs. The number of people who are suffering the consequences of long term use of opioids is staggering. That some doctors treating patients with chronic pain are willing routinely to write prescriptions for long periods of time for these highly addictive substances is scandalous.

One of the guest pieces is by a person associated with Alive Hospice. That organization typically is involved in the care of terminally ill patients in the last stages of life. That is a different situation that should be dealt with separately and for which the last statement in the above paragraph does not apply.

An example of misuse of these drugs that The Tennessean does not discuss is Actiq, a powerful narcotic approved by the FDA for use by cancer patients. Actiq takes the form of a lollipop, and was designed for use by severely ill patients who have trouble swallowing. Yet, Joe Paduda points out that only 1% of prescriptions filled in the first half of 2006 were written by oncologists. Actiq is now one of the top 3 drugs, in terms of dollars spent, being prescribed for workers' compensation patients. Such off label drug use (that is, use in ways that differ from that which the drug was approved for by the FDA) invites abuse.

The medical profession needs to get serious about addressing this issue.

Reds Retire Concepcion's Number

The Cincinnati Reds yesterday retired the number of Dave Concepcion, their shortstop in the halcyon days of the Big Red Machine.

Mr. Concepcion should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Both his defensive prowess and his offensive numbers compare favorably with those of Ozzie Smith. Perhaps it is because Mr. Concepcion played on a a team on which he was surrounded by all-stars that he has never gotten the national recognition that he deserves. Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan calls Mr. Concepcion "the greatest shortstop I've every played with or I've ever seen."

Friday, August 24, 2007

Subprime, Sub-smart

I am sure that there are few things more devastating, financially speaking, than losing one's home. Because of that, I am hesitant to criticize those who are now in a mess due to large numbers taking out subprime adjustable rate loans, but wasn't the current national crisis entirely predictable?

I know that people like this will say so.

In 2003, interest rates were at their lowest level that they've been in my lifetime -- I bought a house that year and locked in a fixed rate of 5 and 3/8%. When rates are at the bottom, there is no place that they can go except up. Getting an adjustable rate mortgage under those circumstances was just not smart.

I apologize for blaming victims, but many of the people affected by this really should have known better.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Worth Ben Stein's Money?

Ben Stein has a new documentary coming out in February 2008 that promises to be provocative and interesting:

Hat Tip: Tom Ascol

Writing Politics in Nashville

A.C. Kleinheider asked voters to identify the "best political writer" in Nashville. I voted Roger Abramson. As others have pointed out, Abramson is not writing as much these days about general politics, but when he does so, he combines clarity of thought with an acerbic wit. I don't always agree, but almost always enjoy the read.

Spreading the Blame Around

A pessimistic budget forecast by the Congressional Budget Office for years following the current one caused House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MA) to declare that "Republican policies have created deficits as far as the eye can see."

The Oracle has roundly criticized the Bush administration and congressional Republican leadership over much of the last eight years for their disavowal of principles and lack of restraint on spending. That being said, Rep. Hoyer's accusation is largely untrue. The primary reason for the future worsening budget picture, according to the CBO report, has to do with "rising healthcare costs and the nation’s expanding elderly population." That spending derives from entitlements that have been place for decades, and when Republicans attempted to address, albeit weakly, Democrats demurred, denied, and demagogued.

The federal government will soon reach a period of fiscal crisis created by these entitlements, and both parties will be partly to blame.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Subprime Mortgage Failures Could Impact Local Communities

Doug Miller, writing at Keller City Limits, compares the current problems with subprsime mortgage foreclosures with the avings and loan failures of the late 1980's and then expresses concerns regarding the potential impact on local communities:

If the foreclosure rate continues to escalate in NE Tarrant County, it will bring property values down significantly as banks unload their foreclosures on an already saturated market. D/FW, and NE Tarrant County in particular rank in the top ten in the nation in foreclosure proceedings.

This will negatively impact the budget of every city, county and school district in the area. Before the elected leaders of our area decide to go on another spending spree we need to think wisely about the future of our economy before doing so.

"Slouching toward ... Tancredo"

Marginal Republican presidential candidate Tom Tancredo complained that his party's top tier candidates are insincerely trying to emulate his position on immigration. Ironically, the Wall Street Journal agrees, arguing that Mitt Romney's anti-Giuliani ad is unjust and lamenting that Rudy Giuliani is "slouching toward Tom Tancredo."

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Culture as "Biological Strategy"

Dr. Roy F. Baumeister, Eppes Eminent Professor of Psychology & Head of Social Psychology Area at Florida State University, delivered an interesting address before this year's session of the American Psychological Association that discussed various ways that human cultures exploit men. The suggestion that human cultures, which are usually thought of as primarily patriarchal, exploit males is provocative, but Dr. Baumeister points out that both men and women have both been exploited in ways consistent with the needs for the propagation of the human race. Regarding the exploitation of men, he argues thusly:

When I say I am researching how culture exploits men, the first reaction is usually “How can you say culture exploits men, when men are in charge of everything?” This is a fair objection and needs to be taken seriously. It invokes the feminist critique of society. This critique started when some women systematically looked up at the top of society and saw men everywhere: most world rulers, presidents, prime ministers, most members of Congress and parliaments, most CEOs of major corporations, and so forth — these are mostly men.

Seeing all this, the feminists thought, wow, men dominate everything, so society is set up to favor men. It must be great to be a man.

The mistake in that way of thinking is to look only at the top. If one were to look downward to the bottom of society instead, one finds mostly men there too. Who’s in prison, all over the world, as criminals or political prisoners? The population on Death Row has never approached 51% female. Who’s homeless? Again, mostly men. Whom does society use for bad or dangerous jobs? US Department of Labor statistics report that 93% of the people killed on the job are men. Likewise, who gets killed in battle? Even in today’s American army, which has made much of integrating the sexes and putting women into combat, the risks aren’t equal. This year we passed the milestone of 3,000 deaths in Iraq, and of those, 2,938 were men, 62 were women.

The entire address is as provocative and intriguing as the above excerpt. Among other things, Dr. Baumeister informs us that while one parent of each sex is required for each birth, that looking at the entirety of the living human race, that approximately twice as many different females than males are responsible for the current population.

For a review of the address, see here.

Getting What They Pay For

The Princeton Review -- no relation to Princeton University -- this year recognizes West Virginia University, the alma mater of Adam "Pacman" Jones, as the number one party school in the nation, but in a statement that should chill the enthusiasm of taxpayers and parents everywhere for funding their children's education, one WVU student, Stuart Sauer, says that his school doesn't deserve the award: "I think there's no way to measure that. Every school's a party school."

University President Mike Garrison responded that students are focused on"the great year we have ahead," not partying, but evidently he did not realize that the students involved may not consider those two concepts to be mutually exclusive.

UT -- that's the University of Texas when talking to people at my new home -- finished second in the ranking.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Political Weapons, and Fair Game?

Looking at the contenders for the 2008 presidential election, Matt Lewis notices "a dramatic increase in the use of political spouses as surrogates." Harrison Scott Key wonders if this represents "some cultural shift in marriage roles as reflected in the polis," or if it is just characteristic of this year's candidates.

With an increasing number of marriages being composed of a union between two professionally employed people, my guess is that this is a trend.

Tidal Pork

Funds intended to help rebuild coastal communities devastated by Katrina are instead helping to build developments featuring million dollar condos in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, according to this week's Capitol Journal:

What some find particularly galling about that state of affairs is that Tuscaloosa is about 200 miles from the coast and sustained only scattered damage from Katrina, and while wealthy developers and investors are reaping the benefits of GO Zone there, those in coastal areas most devastated by Katrina haven't been able to take advantage of GO Zone because their rebuilding efforts have been hampered by disorganization and bureaucratic red tape. "It's a joke," said one Tuscaloosa developer. "It was supposed to be about getting put housing in New Orleans, LOUISIANA, or Biloxi, MISSISSIPPI. It was not about condos in Tuscaloosa."

Evidently, this misuse of taxpayer funds is aided and abetted by U.S. Senator Richard Shelby, a pro-pork Republican. A decade and a half ago, Senator Shelby helped cement the Republican majority in the Senate by switching over to the GOP. Thus, it is ironic that he now supports pro-pork policies that have helped return the party to minority status in Washington.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Wanting to Be in the Path

The Oracle has always had a desire (death wish?) to be on the coast when a hurricane comes ashore. I thought that this week might be my big opportunity, but now the computer models seem to be indicating that it is more likely to hit south of the border. I guess I won't be making a trip to the coast.

I am happy for the people of southeast Texas, but am missing my opportunity.

Bad Policy and Bad Politics on Immigration

Fred Barnes is right about this:

There's a distinction to be made here between opposing the immigration reform bill that died in the Senate several weeks ago and the obsessive emphasis by Republicans since then on unlawful immigration. There were legitimate reasons for seeking to defeat the bill, though I favored it. But now the heated talk about illegals has drifted into demagoguery.

Some of the concern expressed on the right about illegal immigration represents legitimate interests of the country in the rule of law and the security of the nation. However, some of the rhetoric is nothing more than jingoism. It is bad for the Republican Party -- and it is bad for the country.

Besides, part of the illegal immigration problem has come about due to the inadequacies of current immigration law and oversight. The nation needs a comprehensive reform plan that is serious about both enforcement and about the immigration needs of the nation.

There's a Nice Cheap Shot at Bill Kristol, too....

The Dallas Morning News asked syndicated columnist and author of the autobiography, "Prince of Darkness," Robert Novak a few questions. The answers were interesting. For example, on whether religious conservatives and the Republican Party have been good for each other:

Well, it sure has been good for the Republican Party. Republicans, without the religious right, could not have captured the House in 1994, [nor] won most of the elections between '94 and 2006. Whether it's good for religious conservatives, I'm not so sure. I don't have much faith in government or politics to solve many ills. It's certainly true that if the Republicans had relied on the country clubbers, they wouldn't have won like they did.

Read the rest here.

A Sunday Thought about Church

As is true of many things, my sense of nuance frequently puts me in a middling position with few allies. Thus:

As a Christian, I believe that Christian faith has implications for all of life, including politics and culture. However, it pains me to see so many thinking of the church as a political interest group, which it should never be.

I don't think those two statements are inconsistent. However, believing them both does manage to aggravate nearly everyone, it seems.

When Heading for the Cheating Side of Town....

In Texas, evidently it won't likely come back to bite you if you use your toll tag on your way to an amorous encounter. The Dallas Morning News reports that the North Texas Tollway Authority has only turned over records twice in the past year in response to requests related to divorce cases:

"Adultery in Texas is not nearly as important an issue in most divorces as it once was," said Sheldon Goldstein, who practices family law in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. "In New Jersey, Connecticut and New York, there's a lot more attention placed on it."

The Oracle sincerely hopes that this information would have no practical value for his readers. I merely found it curious and somewhat amusing.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Definition of the Day

From Little Green Footballs --

Shin: a device for finding furniture in the dark.

Dynasty Fatigue?

I wonder how many people, either consciously or unconsciously, will vote based on this feeling in 2008 or, if relevant, 2012:

Well, there are political families, and there are political families. There's something more than a little off about talking about the Adamses and the Roosevelts in the same breath as the Bushes and the Clintons. And the Kennedys -- well, the gifts didn't survive in the second generation, now did they?

I wouldn't not vote for HRC, or Jeb, because of family connections, but I've got to admit that the idea of spending four more years with either a Bush or a Clinton is depressing.

Myopic Chutzpah

Nicole Brodeur, in the midst of offering something of an apology for stepping outside the bounds of journalistic propriety when the Karl Rove resignation was announced, evidently couldn't resist using the moment to take a potshot at bloggers.

She writes: "The hallowed halls of journalism that I was privileged to enter more than 20 years ago are looking more and more like the New York subway. The walls covered in bloggers' scrawl, the platform crowded with any yahoo with a camera and an open mike. All are headed to your computer screen or television for the 15 seconds you'll give them before moving on to the next hot spot."

Whatever. It would more impressive to read such criticisms from someone who is behaving well.

Hat Tip: Michael Silence

Historical Literacy

Journalist and historian David McCollough had this to say at this year's annual meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures:

The lessons of history are going right by our young Americans…For the past twenty-five years, we have been raising a generation of youth that are for all practical purposes, historically illiterate.

According to this account of Mr. McCollough's address, the generational illiteracy results both from what is taught (or not taught) in schools and from what is no longer taught as families gather around a dinner table. He also emphasized that history should be interesting because it is about people. Sadly, that is not often enough the way that it is taught.

I would love to hear the entire address. The account of it is very good.

Hat Tip: The Thicket

Research on Humans

Those of us who nowadays express ethical concerns with regard to scientific research conducted on human beings sometimes get branded as opposing science, but a current news story about to an old event serves as a reminder that scientific progress should not be an ultimate value. The state of Iowa has agreed to pay nearly $1 million to victims of a 1939 experiment known popularly as "The Monster Study." The research, which was intended to prove that stuttering is learned behavior, consisted of subjecting 22 children to "steady harassment, badgering and other negative therapy in an attempt to get them to stutter."

The hypothesis proved incorrect, but learning that it was wrong came at too great a cost.

A Weekend Respite from Life's Certainty

Let me tell you how it will be
There's one for you, nineteen for me
'Cause I'm the taxman, yeah, I'm the taxman
-- from The Beatles hit The Taxman (lyrics by George Harrison)

Showing an amazing capacity for fixating on the empty portion of a glass 3/4 full, Dallas Morning News staff writer Maria Halkias pens a piece of analysis outlining all of the ways that this weekend's sales tax holiday harm the state and its citizens. From the standpoint of Ms. Halkias' piece, the sales tax holiday causes people who are too ignorant to realize that saving 8.25% really doesn't amount to that much to nonetheless spend beyond their means and end up on the brink of bankruptcy. Furthermore, retailers hate it because they have to change the software in their cash registers for the weekend. Besides, the article reports that a so-called consumer advocate complains that libraries might have to reduce hours because the state misses out on sales tax revenue on selected items for two entire days.

For someone claiming to be a consumer advocate to come down on the side against consumer savings is truly an Orwellian development.

Of course, all of the above arguments are rather easily dismissed. Consumers are not just saving 8.25%: retailers competing for business slash prices in order to bring customers in their doors -- just like they do at Christmas. While some people undoubtedly overspend (again, a Christmas comparison is apt), most people buy clothes for school children at this time anyway, and those people are getting more bang for their buck. And, governments that have to shut libraries because they lost a day or 2 a year of sales tax revenue perhaps should look at how they allocate their resources.

The article also resurrects the ultimate argument against all tax cuts: they provide the most relief to people who pay taxes. Thus, someone in the article complains that people who have enough money to buy more as a result save more. Admitting that to be true, one still suspects that the person of modest means who can buy one more shirt or pair of pants because of the savings benefits as much or more than the person who has a larger savings in terms of real dollars.

None of this is to say that The Oracle is a huge fan of sales tax holidays. As a matter of public policy, broad based tax planning and, when appropriate, broad based tax relief provide better solutions. However, many opponents of tax free weekends oppose tax relief on two days because they oppose tax relief of any kind. Against that viewpoint, The Oracle will gladly take his stand.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Fed Crosses the Rubicon

The Federal Reserve Board, in a move that may ultimately make or break the reputation of Chairman Ben Bernanke, has cut its "discount window" rate by .5%. The rate cut is in response to widespread concern regarding the sub-prime mortgage market and its impact on Wall Street.

While the recent tumble of stocks certainly creates concerns, many had doubted that the Fed would reduce rates because other sectors of the economy remain strong. Unemployment is around 4.5%. Strong economic growth has driven concerns about the need for controlling inflation.

Was it right to drop the rate, or was this a panicked response to a market that dropped back to where it was only 6 months ago? Only time will tell. This move may halt the nation from a recession, or it may overheat the economy and result in high inflation. Based on which direction it goes, it will likely make Mr. Bernanke either a hero or a goat.

Dickensian Housing

The Dallas Morning News is running a series of disturbing investigative reports on boarding and care homes in Dallas where mentally ill persons are housed. The series is aptly titled "Harrowing Housing."

Links to the newspaper reports and other online interactive resources can be found here.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Correcting the Comedy of Errors

Journalists who are surprised at their profession's diminishing reputation would do well to read Bill Hobbs' piece here. Addressing a misleading headline in a local paper and a survey revealing a shocking number of errors in news accounts, Mr. Hobbs writes:

Cute-but-false-impression headlines and correcting only a small percentage of errors in a newspaper aren't the formula for restoring the news media's credibility.

Mr. Hobbs suggests that newspapers could use a blog as a means of issuing corrections as part of an overall program of quality improvement.

"Most Blogs Are Not Good"

For an outstanding exposition of the merits and demerits of bloggers and blogging, see the inimitable Roger Abramson here.

I suppose that my view of blogging is skewed by the fact that I typically only read those that I consider to be good. Thus, I treat blogs the same way I do books and newspapers and other sources of information. Other than The Tennessean editorial page, which I seem to read for the same reason that gawkers can't take their eyes off of a bad accident, I don't waste my time reading things that don't have value for me.

Mr. Abramson is undoubtedly correct that most blogs aren't worth reading. Of course, he might suggest that about this one.

Not Bailing on Principle

It is interesting that the term "subprime," with minimal definition, has become the term of art for the kinds of loans that are now troubling lenders. One hopes that people understand that these were loans that were risky -- for both borrowers and lenders -- because the former group had credit problems.

Be that as it may, George Will says that in the current year that it is fortunate that monetary policy will be set by the Federal Reserve, not by pandering politicians:

In 2008, as voters assess their well-being, several million households with adjustable-rate home mortgages will have their housing costs increase. Defaults, too, will increase. That will be a perverse incentive for the political class to be compassionate toward themselves in the name of compassion toward borrowers, with money to bail out borrowers. If elected politicians controlled the Federal Reserve, they would lower interest rates. Fortunately, we have insulated the Federal Reserve from democracy.

The Federal Reserve's proper mission is not to produce a particular rate of economic growth or unemployment, or to cure injuries -- least of all, self-inflicted ones -- to certain sectors of the economy. It is to preserve the currency as a store of value -- to contain inflation. The fact that inflation remains a worry is testimony to the fundamental soundness of the economy, in spite of turbulence in a small slice of one sector.

It's Still a Funny Story

Dallas billionaire Mark Cuban remembers his last fist fight -- in a bar in Dallas 15 years ago.

If you need a laugh -- and I did -- its a great story.

Disinterested Observers?

Stuart Buck discusses and links to an interesting study suggesting that political sophistication may not lead to sound political judgement. In fact, the informed may be less likely to recognize their biases when evaluating political information. Mr. Buck writes regarding the conclusions of the study, "In other words, it's the most clever people who are best at dressing up their emotional and partisan beliefs in high-minded reasoning, the best at cherry-picking the evidence to support their cause, the best at poking holes in any contrary evidence."

That's a rather humbling thought.

Political Charlie Browns

Well, if you know you are going to lose anyway, why not try to at least get something out of it?

That, argues Peter Hannaford, is the attitude of the California Republican Party. He is right: a proposal by party leaders to divide the state's electoral votes results from a loser's mentality.

Those who think political currents are permanent simply do not pay attention to history. A generation ago, the south was solidly Democratic; and Massachusetts was once a bastion of Republicanism.

However, those who believe they are losers are likely to be such far into the future.

Throwing Stones in a Glass House

For an interesting recounting of the dramatic rise and seeming fall of New York's boy governor, see here.

Not the Right Tax

The editors at NRO argue that the idea of a national sales tax, lately denoted the "Fair Tax," as a replacement for the federal income tax is a political loser. They are surely right.

Certainly, the income tax system should be flatter and simpler. Getting to that point would require the elimination of many exemptions favored by various constituencies. The more radical approach of abolishing the income tax in favor of a national sales tax are politically and practically insurmountable.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

What a Country!

The Associated Press reports that the Russian region of Ulyanovsk has declared September 12 to be its annual "Conception Day." Employees will be given time off in order to contribute to the goals of the day.

The city will hold a celebration in 9 months and give prizes to, uh, lucky winners. The day is being held in order to try to halt the population decline in the region.

Hat Tip: World Magazine Blog

This Time Crime Didn't Pay

The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania filed an opinion this week resolving a mind boggling case. A Pennsylvania construction worker who was staying in a hotel while working on a project in New York was murdered late at night in his room by his wife's boyfriend. The wife, who was 8 months pregnant at the time of the murder, subsequently filed a workers' compensation claim seeking death benefits on behalf of both her and her son, who was born a month later.

The murder took place in 1993. The wife testified against her boyfriend in exchange for a reduced sentence, with the result that the boyfriend was convicted of first degree murder and other charges in 1995. This claim for workers' comp benefits was not finally resolved by the courts until this year.

Citing the "personal animus" exclusion on employer liability in Pennsylvania workers' compensation law and accepting the argument that the decedent was not in the course of employment at the time he was murdered, the court upheld the state's Workers' Compensation Appeals Board's denial of the claim.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Will this Call for an Affirmative Action Program?

Ellen Goodman notes that the left wing political blogosphere is composed mostly of angry white males.

Though I have never counted noses, I suspect that the center-right blogosphere is also predominately white and male. We are not nearly as angry, though. We're very much a fun loving group.

Hat Tip: Campfield, who characteristically refers to the column as an "article" and can't manage to spell "dearth."

If I Were a Sandwich....

You Are a Ham Sandwich

You are quiet, understated, and a great comfort to all of your friends.
Over time, you have proven yourself as loyal and steadfast.
And you are by no means boring. You do well in any situation - from fancy to laid back.

Your best friend: The Turkey Sandwich

Your mortal enemy: The Grilled Cheese Sandwich

On Limbaugh and Ms. Clinton

Alan K. Henderson provides two simple quotes from the above referenced individuals that really do go a long way toward explaining two very different views of the role of government.

From Mr. Limbaugh: "I wish the government didn't know who I was."

From Ms. Clinton: "As I travel around America, I hear from so many people who feel like they're just invisible to their government."

I Had Better Drive More Carefully

Consumer Reports has a website where you can watch video of a car of your make and model in a crash test. My Sentra won't do well if hit in the side -- the narrator said possible brain damage, though, which would not be likely noticed in my case.

Hat Tip: Evangelical Outpost

Living Family Values

John Hutcheson writes that he and his wife are celebrating their 30th anniversary. Congratulations, John.

The Importance of Electability

John Mark Reynolds explains that he will not be voting for Republican candidate for President Mike Huckabee -- because he agrees with him about almost everything. Mr. Reynolds argues that the Republicans need a candidate with a broader appeal. Of Mr. Huckabee, he writes:

He has no proven track record of appealing to voters not already in the fold. We don’t need someone who can preach to the choir, we need the equivalent of C.S. Lewis who can talk to people who hate choir music.

He mentions Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson as two candidates who might have the ability to bridge that chasm.

Hat Tip: World Mag Blog

Monday, August 13, 2007

Rove's Legacy?

Republican National Committee Chairman Robert M. Mike Duncan says that Karl Rove "will be remembered most for engineering two successful presidential campaigns...." That may be true, but it is also possible that Mr. Rove's legacy will in the end be remembered otherwise.

In the 1990's, President Clinton became known for his use of "triangulation," which was the term used for marginalizing both the left and the right in order to achieve his own political objectives. That approach proved personally advantageous for Mr. Clinton, but to a large degree he advanced himself at the expense of his own party, which endured severe losses in numbers of elected leaders in both Congress and in state capitols nationwide.

Mr. Rove has become famous for a strategy that centers around "exciting the base." While that strategy has its merits, it also risks focusing on an ever shrinking pie of core support. In fact, the narrow wins of President Bush in 2000 and 2004 stand in stark contrast with the much wider margins of victory by Republican presidential candidates in the last quarter of a century.

Perhaps the narrower victories are representative of a different era. On the other hand, they may be the result of a strategy that focuses on looking inward at the expense of reaching out. President Reagan prevailed in elections with a legion of Reagan Democrats. No one is talking about the Bush Democrats.

A Whale of a Thought

"Oh! Ahab," cried Starbuck, "not too late is it ... to desist. See! Moby-Dick seeks thee not. It is thou, thou, that madly seekest him!" --Starbuck, during the climactic scene of Moby Dick

Karl Rove, who is reputed to be clever, perhaps outdid himself in this parting swipe at the Democratic bow:

I noticed the other day some Democratic staffers were quoted calling me the big fish. Well, I'm Moby Dick and they're after me.

Of course, it is possible that Mr. Rove meant nothing more than that some Democrats see him as the biggest fish in the sea -- a thought which will probably cause some on the left who are afflicted with a penchant for taking all things literally to cite this as an example of the Bush administration's assault on science. However, Rove could have meant something more. Readers of Melville's classic know that things did not go well for those who made the mistake of hunting Moby Dick and that Ahab's obsession ultimately did him in.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Unfulfilled Expectations

Last year, Washington Post columnist George Will suggested that Barack Obama would be wise to get into the presidential race, partly on the basis that "one can be an intriguing novelty only once."

However, Mr. Obama's effort has proven not to offer novelty at all. It is more of the same old same old. Mr. Will now describes the "disappointing" candidacy as "unoriginal and unjust."

"Is This Heaven?" "No, It's Iowa."

Well, it's Texas actually, but that is not what they said in the movie. Nonetheless, it is common knowledge that The Oracle is a huge baseball fan. Thus, when the exceptionally attractive woman with whom I had shared a first date suggested that the fact that the Rangers were in town provided an opportunity for our second, I took that as a positive sign. That it turns out that she genuinely enjoys and understands the game is even better.

Her seeming to like me may indicate that she has questionable taste, but I won't worry over that for now.

Life is good.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

On Media, Old and New

Last week, bloggers and journalists in Nashville engaged in an extended dispute over the value -- or lack thereof -- of their respective contributions to the world at large. Because blogging is destined to augment, not replace, professional journalism, one senses that the journalists do protest too much. Nonetheless, journalists correctly sense that their turf is being invaded, and that disconcerts many of them.

Because most people who maintain blogs, including your humble correspondent, do so merely as a hobby or on a part time basis, they will for the most part not be able to perform the kind of news gathering that constitutes original reporting. To use myself as an example, I did a bit of original work a year ago this month in posts concerning a judge's record in Wilson County (that continues to get a fair number of hits) and also did some reporting on events that same month at the National Conference of State Legislatures meeting in Nashville that the local newspaper did not choose to cover. However, most of what I do is simply opinion writing or media criticism, and as the journalists in this dispute quickly point out, I, like other bloggers, depend a great deal on their work.

That being said, journalists arguing their indispensability should remember that Americans characteristically are temperamentally anti-elitist, and, as such, they do not respond well to arguments based on credentials or professional standing. They want to know about what you have done. From that standpoint, there are too many examples of journalism done badly in recent years for arguments from general professional standing to carry much weight.

There will be a lot of jockeying for position in the coming years as journalists and bloggers figure out their respective ways of contributing to the quest for truth. Those in both camps will have a valuable role if they pursue their craft well.

Hat Tip: Bob Krumm

Thursday, August 09, 2007

This Could Ruin my Reputation

You Are 69% Feminist

You are certainly a feminist - whether you know it or not.
You believe in gender equality, at least most of the time. You also believe there are a few exceptions.

Hat Tip: Professor Bainbridge

Moderation in the Pursuit of Victory?

Chris Jackson, who writes an blog unofficially advocating for former Congressman and current DLC chairman Harold Ford, Jr., makes this astute observation:

As I looked around the internet at reaction to the Governor and Congressman's op-ed, I was once again stunned to see how many of my Democratic friends were dispassionate to the idea of having ideas that appeal to the center of our country. In reading their comments, they seem to think that our country is moving further and further left, so there is no need for our party to look to lead from the center anymore.I could not disagree more.

Although our party did make big gains last year in the mid-term elections, it was far from a mandate for a left leaning policy. Many of the candidates that won around the nation for the Democrats were not liberal, but moderates who appealed to both Democrats and Republicans and offered change (IE: Bob Casey Jr., Jim Webb, Jim Tester, etc.) from the status quo. Moreover, I would argue that it wasn't the love for our party or even our agenda that gave us the majority in both the House and Senate, but rather the overwhelming disdain among everyday Americans towards the Republican Party and the policies that they had in place.

While that argument is correct, the chances of the Democrats ignoring it are more likely than not.

Familiarity's Breeding

Don Surber, while asking whether Democrats are "peaking too soon" in the 2008 presidential race, points out that Democrats have often done the same thing in past elections:

Democrats are great at electing presidents in March when the election is held in November. Dukakis, Gore and Kerry were all locks in their races — until the fall campaign actually began.

That's an interesting observation, though I would ascribe the reason for it to something other than "peaking too soon." For a generation now, the American electorate has tended to like Democratic candidates until they actually start paying attention. Once they start actually looking more closely at the race, the general public finds the candidates that Democrats put forward to be less palatable.

Hat Tip: Instapundit

A Cynical Blast

Former U.S. Senator Tom Daschle used intemperate language in criticizing Republicans for making plans to contest the Senate seat held by Tim Johnson, but this is nothing more than base cynicism.

All decent people wish the Best for Sen. Johnson, who has not been able to work since suffering a brain hemorrhage last year, but that does not mean that it is inappropriate to make plans to fill the seat when it comes up for re-election next year. One hopes that Sen. Johnson improves sufficiently to return to work and make a serious run to hold his position, but in the event he does not capable Democrats and Republicans should be prepared to enter the race.

The Kind that Stay

The Managing Editor of the Dallas Morning News responded to the suggestion that a recent front page story on immigration revealed that the newspaper wished to "turn the region over to invaders, as follows:

It is true that we can’t understand their language, are baffled by their customs and mystified by their manners. It is true that their work ethic sometimes scares us. But, yes, I will confess it. We believe that – so long as their numbers are kept within reasonable bounds – the region should be open to resettlement by Yankees.

That's funny! The Oracle is from the Midwest, but still finds it to be hilarious.

Desperately Seeking a Worthy Opponent

Should The Oracle, either out of a fit of shameless sophistry or in order to prove a point, set out to write an essay making the case for universal health care coverage, he believes that he could do a credible job. Unfortunately, the editorial writer for The Tennessean, advocating the same with seemingly heartfelt sincerity, is not up to the task.

Today's editorial is so ridden with errors and poor thought that one hardly knows where to begin. What is truly shocking about the piece is the extent to which the author argues against a ghost, contradicting arguments that no one has made or believed. Thus, the editorial claims the following:

"Candidates and office holders are recognizing — and seemingly surprised — that not all Americans have health insurance...." Really? Which candidates and office holders are surprised? The number of uninsureds has been a widespread topic of political conversation for the last quarter of a century or more. Perhaps Rip van Winkle is surprised, but hardly anyone who has been awake could be. Was the editorial writer surprised?

"It is astounding that it has taken so long for everyone to agree that everyone ought to be covered." Astounding, huh? Leaving aside the point that it is not a good idea to make arguments saying "everyone," who in a responsible position has thought that it was not a good idea for someone to have health coverage? Saying that people "ought" to have it is not the same thing as agreeing that some centralized mechanism should be provided to give it to them.

"But some of the proposals being offered show ... a remarkable fear in some camps that government might be part of the solution." I'm not sure how any proposals show fear, much less remarkable fear, but who has a "remarkable fear that government might be part of the solution." Evidently, the writer confuses skepticism with fear. Or, perhaps, he or she just makes things up.

"...[O]ne of the objections to proposals to provide the care was the expressed worry that it could lead to 'government-run health care' — as though that phrase alone said it all." Of course, no one that I am aware of suggests this. Those who express concerns about "government-run health care" have a steady supply of examples of government programs that run amok. There is no vague resort to arguments against government here: there are real world concerns.

"Government-run health care is somehow assumed by some to be inherently awful and that no one would want such a terrible thing." Leaving aside the syntactical travesties of that sentence, who exactly thinks that such a thing is "inherently awful." Any names here? No. In fact, the argument of a specific opponent is never mentioned anywhere in the piece. The only named individual is Phil Bredeson, who is said to have "probably hit the nail on the head." The word "probably" is problematic here, as it leaves the reader uncertain as to whether Gov. Bredeson possibly hit the nail somewhere other than on the head or whether he possibly missed entirely.

"...[I]in its current form the health-care system has no private market." Really? None at all? The editorial proceeds to make the rather obvious point that the current system has an inadequate private market, but somehow concludes that an inadequate market means not that the market should be improved, but that it should be done away with.

"Providers are as guilty as anyone, because they don't seem interested in a system where they might actually have to hold the line on what they charge." Of course. All health care providers are tarred with the charge of not caring at all what their services will cost their patients.

"But the fact that policy-makers are beginning to recognize the fact that universal care is an honorable goal, not a vulgar term, is a small but important advancement." A vulgar term?

Other than these statements, the editorial is still poorly written. With them, it is a complete embarrassment.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Scarlet S

Until 2001, Republicans had not controlled both houses of Congress and the White House at the same time since the Eisenhower administration. When they finally gained control of the legislative and executive branches of government, they failed to lead based on those principles commonly associated with the party. The extent of that failure is shown in the following:

The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds Democrats lead Republicans by 16 points on controlling government spending and by nine points on taxes.

That Republicans now have a bad reputation on spending is both well-deserved and shameful, and it is an embarrassment to those among us who genuinely believe in limited government.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Religion and the Arts

Camille Paglia has an extraordinarily good essay discussing religion and the arts. Near the beginning, she asserts the following:

I would argue that the route to a renaissance of the American fine arts lies through religion. Let me make my premises clear: I am a professed atheist and a pro-choice libertarian Democrat. But based on my college experiences in the 1960s, when interest in Hinduism and Buddhism was intense, I have been calling for nearly two decades for massive educational reform that would put the study of comparative religion at the center of the university curriculum. Though I shared the exasperation of my generation with the moralism and prudery of organized religion, I view each world religion, including Judeo-Christianity and Islam, as a complex symbol system, a metaphysical lens through which we can see the vastness and sublimity of the universe. Knowledge of the Bible, one of the West's foundational texts, is dangerously waning among aspiring young artists and writers. When a society becomes all-consumed in the provincial minutiae of partisan politics (as has happened in the US over the past twenty years), all perspective is lost. Great art can be made out of love for religion as well as rebellion against it. But a totally secularized society with contempt for religion sinks into materialism and self-absorption and gradually goes slack, without leaving an artistic legacy.

Ms. Paglia proceeds to provide an overview of the relationship between religion (mostly Christianity) and the arts over the history of western culture. Though I would quibble with her on some of the broad strokes of the essay, it is an outstanding summary.

As a Christian, I would note that one of the underlying, though not overtly stated points, of the essay is unquestionably and sadly true. European and American Christianity, which has contributed greatly and positively to artistic endeavors over the centuries, has a much diminished impact in more recent times. Much of Christian attention to the arts is purely negative, taking the form of opposition to various vulgarities. As Ms. Paglia ably demonstrates, that need not be the case, as Christian themes provide a context in which creative endeavors should flourish.

Hat Tip: Evangelical Outpost

Deep Hostilities and Shallow Thoughts

John Fund has an excellent piece providing the background behind the current levels of partisan animosity in the U.S. Congress. Mr. Fund finds both parties responsibility for the current levels of hostility and incivility.

It has sometimes been argued, both sarcastically and seriously, that gridlock is a good thing, as it helps prevent Congress from doing any harm. However, there are serious issues currently before the nation -- a war, immigration, the viability of Social Security -- that really require some sort of action. Instead, most of this session (and recent sessions) has involved sniping and gamesmanship over things that don't matter. Ironically, while both parties play the games so as to make themselves look good to the public at large, given the latest congressional approval ratings, the public is not buying it.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Making Money on Health

While reading this post by Mark Sisson (HT: Stuart Buck) offering suggestions, mostly ill advised, for fixing the American health care system, I was reminded of an important philosophical issue that is larger than the health care debate that nonetheless is driving various viewpoints as to how to fix it. That issue is related to the moral and practical fallout from the ability of a system participant to make a profit.

Those who favor some form of socialized medicine frequently impugn the profit motive as a source of greed and ill-gotten gain on the part of insurers and health care providers that results in driving up system costs. Of course, human nature being what it is, this viewpoint has an element of truth. However, it is only part of the story. The profit motive can also be a source of entrepreneurial zeal, as it drives people to produce the best product or provide the best service possible in order to maximize income. Those who think that removing profit will improve the system by making people less concerned about making money fail to understand that the lack of a profit motive is exactly what is wrong with so many government programs. Absent any self-interest, frequently such programs are characterized by bureaucratic malaise and inefficiency.

Is greed an unfortunate aspect of our health care system? Of course, it is. But rather than relish the thought of ridding the system of the profit motive, one perhaps should fear it.

Pro-Choice on Education

The Democratic mayor of Newark, New Jersey, Cory Booker, believes that school choice is a key issue to reviving that moribund city:

Parents in Newark are more demanding than ever, and they deserve a plethora of options of excellence to choose from that meet the needs of their kids.

Finding Meaning in a Collapsed Bridge

Rev. John Piper, who is the pastor of a church near the collapsed I-35W bridge, penned some meditations regarding putting his daughter to bed on the evening of that event. They are well worth reading.

Is Writing an Art?

Since it is, could we justify a public expenditure to buy The Tennessean a thesaurus?

Perhaps the writer was attempting to achieve a record by including some form of the word "art"26 times in the 30 sentences of today's editorial. The word "public" appears a dozen times.

One sentence that does not include the word "art" begins with the phrase, "Taken to the max...." "The max," in this instance, turns out to be part of an argument against a straw man.

The editorial unintentionally makes a strong case for funding more writing classes in schools.

Friday, August 03, 2007

New IRS Regulations with Unintended Consequences

The IRS has adopted regulations that were intended to impact deferred compensation arrangements for certain corporate employees. However, they may impact other types of employees who have compensation deferred, including many school teachers. Many teachers agree to be paid over a 12 month period, though they only work when school is in session. Technically, this means that some income earned during 2007 will be deferred to 2008

According to the Texas Classroom Teacher's Association, teachers who do not sign contracts or election forms prior to beginning in service for the coming school year specifying the agreement to defer compensation may be subject to additional tax. The Oracle understands that local districts are scrambling to make sure that teacher's are aware of the need to complete the form.

UPDATE: In response to numerous inquiries from school teachers, the IRS is now (August 7)stating that they will not enforce this rule for the 2007-2008 school year. The announcement has to be read carefully: they begin by saying that they are "clearing up confusion," but ultimately merely say that the requirement will not be applied until next year.

That's not clearing up confusion: it's delaying implementation of an inane rule.

Obama Not Up to the Job

Democratic U.S. Senator from Illinois and presidential candidate Barack Obama has followed up his naive comments in the YouTube debate about meeting with foreign leaders with irresponsible remarks suggesting that he would order military strikes in Pakistan. At a point in time when the United States can ill afford to put a foreign policy novice in the White House, these statements clearly show that Mr. Obama is not ready for prime time.

Of course, the inability or unwillingness of Pakistan to ferret out terrorists, including Osama bin Laden, hiding in the mountains is problematic for the United States. However, Pakistan is a nation with a significant population of Islamic radicals that also possesses nuclear weapons. The last thing that the United States wants to do is rattle sabers in such a way that destabilizes that government.

With over a year remaining before next year's general election, it is too early to speculate on how this race will play out. However, looking at a year when voters may reflexively vote Democrat in response to the perceived ineptness of the current administration, it is disconcerting to this observer to realize that the best equipped, serious contender being offered by the Democratic party is Hillary Clinton.

Not good.